Long before one even talked about Gravel, this guidebook collected track routes in the Alps.
Only 100 copies were printed in 2002. Since then, this little gem had almost disappeared.
British writer and cycling journalist Max Leonard is about to give it a second life.
How did you come up with this idea of re-publishing this book ?
It all started with another book I wrote, Bunker Research. I got inspired when riding the Maritime Alps. I started noticing bunkers all around, the Bonette, Col de Braus, Menton, Castillon… I was curious how so many efforts were made to defend these remote places, why these tons of concrete were carried to the very top of the Bonette, 2700 meters high… I made some research and quite a few rides to find them.
I found references to this book, Rough Stuff Cycling In The Alps, that mentionned all these military Stradas I was discovering along the french-italian border. I would have liked to get a copy, but it was impossible to find.
Eventually -as I have created this small publishing company, Isola Press– if I can find its author, why not publish it myself?
James Olsen helped me : On the first Torino-Nice Rally, we were talking bunkers, routes etc… And he had a copy of the book that he used to create the TNR.
So you got an original, what is it like ? On one level, Fred Wright’s book is incredibly well done because he worked at the Cambridge University Press, that was his profession, so, the editing is of super high standard. But on the other hand it was printed in his library and it was bound in a stationery shop… So it’s an incredible thing to read.
What did Fred think of your idea ?
He seemed quite happy that we’re gonna do a new edition. In his book, there’s route reports from the 1950’s, so it’s generations and generations, more and more knowledge. I think genuinely, he didn’t want the information to die. He wanted to pass it on to new generations and he wanted us to add to it.
So what are you adding to the original version ?
We’re gonna put maybe 25 new routes. Will Davies of Cycling Challenge is gonna do some, I’ve done some, James has suggested some…
Fred also gave me 6 photo albums ! So we’re gonna put a lot more photos in the book than Fred did in his. In his edition, there’s 4.
« They’re nothing, I just had a compact camera… » But they were all taken on film, 20 or 30 years ago and now they’re vintage. So actually they look really nice.
It’s always an exciting to experience new landscapes by bike, the change of scenery, fresh air, new foods… And for the most part we don’t need to travel far to enjoy these different experiences.
Europe is a continent full of wonder with its forests, mountains, coastline and even deserts. We all know that cars and planes are most polluting forms of transport, yet it’s easy to reduce our carbon footprint with so much on our doorstep in europe.
Make your next trip more eco-friendly, discover your local area by bike or put the bike on the train to ride further afield. If you need to use the car, carpool with friends !
Do we need to always travel so far ? Keep bigger trips to a minimum and enjoy what’s in reach of 2 wheels !
Max Leonard shares benefits with :
I love his attitude, like he doesn’t really care about his equipment.
He carried a load of stuff: in the photos he’s always wearing a nice shirt, normal short and trainers.
And he’d go do things that we think are really hardcore, really crazy, like climbing these via ferratta, these tiny paths and glaciers…
It’s an amazing attitude to just think “ok, I’m not gonna shout about it, I’m just gonna go do it.” I really liked it.
Did you add GPS tracks too?
We had that discussion on one of the Kickstarter updates, and I said “I don’t think that’s a good idea”.
The spirit of the book and the way I think you should do these things -and especially with Rough Stuff- you’re going to remote places, it’s isolated… I want people to do their homework and to know what they’re doing, to have a paper map, to have some notes, to have a plan.
Fred’s book doesn’t make it easy, he gives you enough and it’s you, you have to go do it yourself. And I think that’s a good attitude.
So you are publishing the book independently?
Yes, it feels better to do it yourself and to do it the way you want to, independently than do it for someone else.
Like the front cover for Bunker Research is debossed cardboard and there’s this quite complicated process of binding. I think to do the cover for each book costs £6… So if you were with a proper publisher, they’d say “no way, you can’t do that, gotta do something cheap”.
So we made something nice, it’s an “acte gratuit”.
It’s something beautiful and useless, which is cool.
Can you tell us about this Kickstarter campaign?
The idea with Kickstarter was to get it going and I didn’t want to make loads of books, I’d had to sell them afterwards.
Especially at the moment, I’m a nomad, so to have a big pile of books… I already have a box of Bunker Research… So, the idea was to make a small number, make sure that everyone who would appreciate it would hear about it in time, sell them all fast and then move on to something else. But actually it took off and became really big !
Why do you think it worked that well?
I thought, if I wanted to see the book, there must be other people who wanted to see it. Because you know, I’m not the most original guy, if I’m into gravel then lots of people are into gravel ; if I like exploring the Alps, other people like exploring the Alps… I was just pleased that I was in a position to give it a new life.
In the end, it was fully funded within 3 hours! And it reached 900% at the end of the campaign, it’s incredible.
Between the different charities, we’re gonna give £1000 or something.
You can’t expect to have that kind of success. So I’m super pleased! It’s nice that we’re sharing a bit.
Writer, cycling journalist
Max writes and rides bikes. He is the author of Bunker Research, Higher Calling and Rapha City Guides.
When bikepacking, he only carries the essential. Which includes some good Scotch and a book.
Photo ©Antton Miettinen